This post was last updated on March 6, 2023 by Preethi Sukumaran
This is the time that it takes for your hair to display signs of the stress you are facing.
If you are losing hair today by the handful, then we have to dial back to what happened roughly 180 days before.
You can lose hair by altering the balance of pitta dosha, by chemical treatments, by increasing your shampooing frequency, and by imbalancing your vata dosha. You can also lose hair when your stress levels suddenly change. And we are going to explore this in detail in today’s blog post on stress related hair loss.
The 4 phases of normal hair growth:
All of us have between 90,000 – 150,000 strands of hair on our head. On any given day, depending on your state of health, weather and state of mind, you could lose anywhere between 20 – 100 strands of hair. As long as your hair loss stays within this range, and as long as you have 90,000 – 150,000 strands of hair, and your hair has the right proportion of growth and loss, this hair loss is considered normal.
Every strand of hair grows through 4 phases:
- Anagen phase (active growth phase) – In this phase, the hair is in its most active growth phase. The duration of the Anagen phase varies for different kinds of hair. For the hair on our heads, the Anagen phase can last anywhere between 2 – 8 years. Those of us who genetically are predisposed to long hair, have a much longer Anagen phase allowing our hair to grow really long.
Your eyelashes, on the other hand, have a much shorter Anagen phase of 30 days.
The 2 take-aways here are this:
- The longer the Anagen phase, the longer the hair growth
- When the Anagen phase is atleast 2 years long, it means that the hair is being allowed the right level of nutrition, and mental health to grown normally
In normal hair, atleast 85% of your hair is supposed to be in Anagen phase.
- Catagen phase – (transition phase) – In this phase, the hair prepares for hair fall by beginning to detach itself from the skin (the dermal papilla). This phase lasts 2 – 4 weeks. This phase marks the beginning of normal hair fall
Only 1% of your hair is supposed to enter Catagen phase at any point in time. While the hair strand is detaching itself from the dermal papilla, the blood supply is cut off from the hair strand.
- Telogen phase – (Resting phase) – In this phase, the hair completely separates from the dermal papilla and prepares for falling out. This phase lasts between 2 – 4 months. As the hair is completely cut off from the dermal papilla, the epidermal cells of the scalp form temporary bindings around the hair, anchoring it on your scalp until it is time for it to fall.
When the hair follicle, which remains dormant in the Telogen phase, starts to re-grow, the hair that has been anchored in place by your scalp will break from its root and fall out. This is the normal process of hair shedding. Even as the hair is shedding, the follicle below it has already started re-growing – this ushers in new hair growth within 2 weeks, when the hair and scalp are in normal health.
In normal hair and scalp, 10 – 15% of the hair strands are in Telogen phase.
Changes in the 3 phases of Hair growth under stress:
Studies among Mice indicate that in times of stress, like exposure to a high degree of noise, hair moves abruptly from the Anagen phase to the Catagen phase, in large numbers.
A similar response is researched to be true in human hair. In times of stress, your hair’s Anagen phase abruptly shifts to Catagen phase. In normal hair, atleast 85% of hair is supposed to be in Anagen phase at any point of time, and only 1% transitions to Catagen phase.
This ratio is altered in times of stress, as a large proportion of Anagen phase hair shifts abruptly to the Catagen phase. This causes a sudden loss of much larger amounts of hair. Literature review suggests that hormones like cortisol, which are used by the body to combat high periods of stress, may be triggering this shift. An analysis of Rhesus monkeys with hair loss found that there is a high level of cortisol in the blood stream.
How long does it take for this stress to show up on hair?
For human beings the hair on the head takes 180 days to show as hairfall from the time of the stressful event. This could be after a physically stressful event like trauma, surgery, or after emotional stress like a divorce or a change of job.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hair growth:
Chemotherapy drugs work on attacking cells that replicate fast – cancerous cells are typically covered by these drugs. However, other, normal fast replicating cells are also attacked by these drugs like the hair follicles.
Therefore, chemotherapy drugs, depending upon the dosage, inhibit new hair growth and can also determine how severe the hair loss is after treatment.
Radiation therapy, especially on the head (seen in brain tumours) can severely affect hair follicles. Hair shedding can start within 2 weeks of beginning radiation therapy where hair follicles quickly enter the Telogen phase.
The Holmes and Rahe Stress scale
Here’s the thing about stress: It gives us a feeling of being inadequate or unable to cope with the demands that are being placed on us. And the level and type of stress we can cope with, without feeling inadequate varies for each person.
In order to standardise this , atleast to some extent, and to understand what level of stress can make us ill, The Holmes and Rahe stress scale was developed in 1967 by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe.
This scale was developed by researching the stress faced by 5000 patients. Holmes and Rahe arrived at a list of 43 stressful events that can occur in anyone’s life and gave each stressful event a weightage. If a person is undergoing several types of stress at the same time, these combined scores could give your doctor a sense of how high or how low your stress levels are.
Many surprising life events find their way into the Holmes Rahe stress scale – these include even happy events like pregnancy, a promotion, and moving to a new home.
Every day, modern stresses like a long commute, high noise levels, constant television / media consumption, high use of the Smartphone, late night working, do not find their way into the Holmes Rahe scale – we can argue that this is because this scale was devised at a much gentler time when these devices, and even the now common phenomena of working women were not this prevalent.
All of us live in a world with aggravated stress levels. If you add to this any of the 43 stressful life events that further push up stress, it is no wonder that stress related hairfall is now such a huge phenomenon.
The effect of stress on skin:
The American academy of dermatology also has many peer reviewed papers that explore the link between cortisol and your skin. Higher levels of cortisol means higher or unregulated sebum production on skin. This means that greater stress could cause a sudden flare up of acne on your skin. Obviously, connected with this is the fact that many of us when stressed, tend to eat oily, rich or sweet foods that could easily trigger acne.
A 2001 study called “Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis” found that stress can also cause higher degree of water loss from your skin. This water loss reduces the ability of skin to heal itself after an injury – so you could have dry or flaky skin, or blemishes and scars that do not go away.
How do we cope with this stress? Ayurveda discusses specific techniques that are suitable for different kinds of people including colour and aroma therapy, use of certain herbs and imbibing certain Dinacharya to help the brain calm down. We will discuss these in tomorrow’s post on coping with different kinds of stress.
Is your stress high? Should you be making some changes in your life? Is your life / job hassling you at a dangerous level? No stress scale can help you conclude, but this is a good place to start.